Home expectations -- and Hackworth's need to meet them -- harming the Union

Home expectations -- and Hackworth's need to meet them -- harming the Union

Philadelphia Union midfielder Michael Lahoud (13), defender Fabinho (33), midfielder Michael Farfan (21) and forward Conor Casey (6) try to block a free kick during the first half of an MLS soccer match against Sporting KC in Kansas City, Kan., Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. (AP Photo)

Homefield advantage is one of the most popular talking points in any sport.

In many of those sports, there is a tangible advantage to being the home team. Home baseball teams get to hit last and can even alter their stadiums to suit their strengths. Home hockey teams get to make the last line change and play the matchup game. Home football teams urge their fans to make noise when opponents are on offense and hinder play-calling at the line.

In soccer, people love to talk about loud stadiums, intimidating atmospheres and bumpy pitches. But in reality, there really is no practical advantage to being the home team. Sure, fans are loud, and occasionally you have to deal with a turf field on the road (I'm looking at you, Seattle, Portland and New England). But in reality, there isn't really any play-calling that can be prevented by crowd noise, and as long as you avoid the flying bags of urine at the Azteca, you can play the same game you play at home.

The problem is that nearly every single person in the soccer world thinks otherwise. More than any sport, you'll hear coaches and players readily admit to "playing for a result" on the road. Or "we're happy to get out of here with a point."

And it's not all quotes and rhetoric. Teams openly admit to changing their tactics and formations just to get that road point or simply to give themselves a chance. No one is seemingly worse in that regard than John Hackworth.

Last weekend in Kansas City, Hackworth trotted out a very defensive-minded formation, going with Michael Lahoud and leaving Jack McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux on the bench. In many ways it made perfect sense against a strong team like Sporting. And in the end, the Union got three crucial points that put them back closer (at least in my book) to a 50/50 chance of making the playoffs.

The problem comes with the Union come back to PPL Park, as they will Saturday against a VERY bad Toronto FC team.

As I wrote last week, soccer fans expect to see a fun style and they want to see goals. Coaches -- and likely players -- know this. So the pressure amps up at home, and people like Hackworth know they are "supposed" to win at home. Not just win, but win "with style," and give the fans something to cheer about.

Players also likely know this, meaning wing backs like Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis fly forward a little more often to join the attack. Or midfielders go for the longer, more dangerous home run pass.

If you watched any of Friday's game in Kansas City, you could tell that the Union were more than happy to sit back and let Sporting possess the ball. They stayed home defensively and played an ugly game, "parking the bus" in the back and waiting for a chance to counter-attack. Eventually, it led to a win.

This Saturday night, against a bad team at PPL Park, Hackworth will more than likely name an attack-minded roster. He'll go with two strikers instead of one, likely sit Lahoud and invite Williams, Gaddis or Fabinho to go forward up the wing.

It hasn't worked.

The Union have scored just five more goals at home this season than their opponents -- the third-worst differential in the league behind basement-dwellers Chivas USA and Toronto FC. On the road, however, the Union have a goal differential of minus-six -- a number that while seemingly unimpressive, ranks in the top third of the league.

I'm not arguing that Hackworth should bunker in at home and play for a lucky win. I want to see goals as much as anyone else. But there needs to be a middle ground. And there needs to be a way for the Union to score goals at home without leaving gaping holes in the back.

The Union tied Toronto back in April at PPL Park. Toronto was just as bad back then as they are now.

Hackworth can't afford a draw on Saturday night. And if that means he has to win ugly, then he needs to ignore the expectations and do whatever it takes.

Eagles-Vikings predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Vikings predictions by our (cough) experts

The Eagles are coming off two straight losses and the slate doesn't get any easier with the 5-0 Vikings coming to town.

It also marks the return of Sam Bradford, who was traded just before Week 1, paving the way for rookie Carson Wentz to start.

The Eagles kick off against Minnesota at the Linc on Sunday at 1 p.m., so it's time for our (cough) experts' predictions for the Week 7 matchup.

Dave Zangaro (2-3)
I'll admit, this game just has a weird feel. It has the feeling like the Eagles might be able to catch the Vikings sleeping after their bye week and hand them their first loss of the season.

I was almost tempted to pick the Birds in this one.

But I'm not.

Ultimately, the Vikings are just the better team. I'm not sure how the Eagles are going to put up points against them. And I'm not convinced the Eagles' defense will be able to stop anyone after what we saw last weekend.

They keep it close, but the Birds fall to 3-3.

Vikings 20, Eagles 17

Derrick Gunn (2-3)
The good news is Minnesota's offense is ranked 30th in the league and the Vikings' run game is dead last averaging 70.6 yards per game. 

The bad news is the Vikings' defense is a monster, ranked 2nd overall and first in points allowed at 12.6.

There is not a weak link in the Vikings' D and they are fundamentally sound across the board. The Eagles' defense vows that what happened to them at Washington — allowing 230 rushing yards — won't happen again. 

Carson Wentz got roughed up by the Redskins' pass rush, and unless the Eagles' offensive line plugs the leaks, more of the same could happen this Sunday. The Birds have every reason to rebound at home, but I just don't like the overall matchup. 

Vikings 20, Eagles 13

Ray Didinger (2-3)
The Vikings aren't going undefeated. You don't go 16-0 in the NFL with a 30th ranked offense which is what the Vikings have. Yes, their defense is very good. Going back to last season they have held each of their last nine opponents to 17 points or less. They are deep, fast and well-coached by Mike Zimmer. But the offense led by Sam Bradford coughs and sputters a lot.
As a result, the Vikings will play a lot of close, low-scoring games and somewhere along the line they are going to lose. It could even happen this week when they play the Eagles. Special teams could be huge. The Eagles have a big edge with kicker Caleb Sturgis. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh has already missed three field goals and two PATs. However, the Vikings return men -- Marcus Sherels on punts, Cordarrelle Patterson on kickoffs -- are very dangerous. I expect the Eagles to keep it close but in the end I have to go with the superior defense.
Vikings 21, Eagles 16

Andrew Kulp (2-3)
Which Eagles defense shows up on Sunday? If they can limit Minnesota's anemic ground attack, which ranks dead last in the NFL, this should be a close game. Sam Bradford is playing really well, but it's not like he's airing it out all over the place.

Then it becomes a question of how Halapoulivaati Vaitai responds to a rough debut. The Vikings pass-rush is fierce, so it doesn't get any easier this week. As long as the protection gives Carson Wentz a chance, that will at least give the rookie signal-caller a shot at making a few big plays.

For some reason, I like their chances at both. It's going to be another ugly one, but the Eagles do just enough to squeak by.

Eagles 20, Vikings 19

Corey Seidman (2-3)
I foresee a low-scoring game in which the Eagles are more competitive than some might think.

But in the end, the Vikings have the personnel and the defensive-minded head coach (Mike Zimmer) to get key stops down the stretch.

Vikings 20, Eagles 16

Andy Schwartz (1-4)
You’re still reading? 

Well good for you. Much appreciated. 

Because clearly I certainly don’t know what to expect from this team. 

But let’s forget all that for the moment and look at the Bradford Bowl. 

The Vikings’ offense is hardly scary (30th in the league in yards per game behind the Rams and Niners), but their defense is (second in yards per game behind Seattle).

The Eagles’ offense is hardly scary (22nd in yards per game), and their defense (sixth in yards per game) was pretty scary a few weeks ago.

So let’s look at the intangibles. Which team needs this game more? The Eagles. And they’re at home. 

But given the outcomes the last two weeks and that Minnesota is unbeaten and coming off a bye, it certainly makes sense to pick the Vikes, who are favored by 2.5.

Then again, the Eagles not too long ago were unbeaten and coming off a bye … and we all know what happened.

So I’ll say the Birds pull off another upset and remain unbeaten at the Linc. 

Just don’t bet on it.

Eagles 6, Vikings 5

Report: Nerlens Noel expected out 3-5 weeks after left knee surgery

Report: Nerlens Noel expected out 3-5 weeks after left knee surgery

It appears the Sixers' frontcourt logjam may not be an issue early on.

Nerlens Noel, who is having surgery Monday for an inflamed plica in his left knee, will miss the first three to five weeks of the season, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Noel suffered a left groin injury in the first preseason game against the Celtics and missed the rest of the preseason. While undergoing treatment, Noel reported left knee soreness, which led to the discovery of the inflamed plica.

It's been an odd start to the season for Noel. The big man was outspoken about his displeasure with the Sixers' frontcourt situation early in camp. With the deadline for Noel's rookie contract extension approaching on Oct. 31, the team has not had conversations about it, according to a report.

The Sixers are already without No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons as he recovers from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot. The team will also be without their starting point guard Jerryd Bayless who is dealing with a ligament issue in his left wrist. Bayless won't require surgery and will be reevaluated in two weeks.